Our trip was from July 9 - July 23. We have three children, ages 11, 9, and 6 who once again proved to be wonderful travelers! Since Since this is the SD forum, I'm going to concentrate on the days we spent in SD. I'll just briefly mention the "getting there" part in case anyone else is doing the same drive and wants ideas as to where to stop. Thank you to all of the great advice I read on the forum and all of the suggestions that were offered. The information was soooo helpful! I'd be more than happy to answer anyone's questions about what we did!
Day one: Left NJ around 4 am and arrived in Rockford, Illinois for a late dinner and stopover for the night.
Day two: On the road by 7 am. Drove to Wisconsin Dells to do a 10 am boat tour of the upper dells. Beautiful! Highly recommended. Visited the Spam museum in Austin, MN and stopped at the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN. Arrived in Sioux Falls, SD for a late dinner and stopover for the night.
Day three: Left hotel by 7:45 am to drive up to De Smet, SD to spend some time at the Ingalls Homestead. This was probably one of the highlights of the trip for our kids. Everything is so hands on for them. They were able to wash clothes the old fashioned way, make corn cob dolls, make rope, make button toys, play with the baby ponies, take a turn driving the covered wagon, dress up at the school, pump the well, play a pump organ, and so much more.This was such a super place to visit for the kids to get an understanding of how the pioneers lived.
After leaving the little house site, we drove into town for a quick look around and visited the ingalls' gravesites. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to take the walking tour in town. Maybe next time!
Next stop for the day was at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. What can I say? It was "corny", LOL! Neat to see once and I'd probably stop again since it really doesn't take much time. It was a nice break from driving.
Day 4: This was a busy day. Left our hotel by 8 and drove to the 1880 town near Murdo, SD. It was a neat place to see once. I don't know that I'd return though. It amazed us how many old buildings were able to be moved to this location but the kids weren't overly impressed. I think because we had just come from the Ingalls site where they encouraged the kids to touch and do everything and at 1880 much of it was behind ropes so it was more of a "looking at" place, rather than a "hands on" place. We did get to meet Otis the camel which the kids enjoyed. We had lunch at the 50's train diner which was a bit pricey for what you get but it was a neat experience.
Next stop on our list was the Prairie Homestead near the badlands. We probably could have skipped this also, since much of it was similar to what we saw in De Smet. We didn't stay long (maybe 40 minutes or so?) so it probably wasn't really worth the cost ($21 for our family). Live and learn!
On to the Badlands! I think this was my personal favorite. We did a few trails (Window, Door, Cliff Shelf Nature, and Fossil Exhibit). We just loved the Door trail once it got off the boardwalk area. The kids loved following the yellow pipes on the trail (felt like a scavenger hunt to them!). I could have stayed there for hours just absorbing the peacefulness. What a beautiful, serene place!
We had dinner at Wall Drug at let the kids shop for a while before moving on to find a hotel in Deadwood. We arrived in Deadwood around 9 pm which was a little later than planned, but it was a great day.
Day 5: Another busy day! Up early, threw some money away in the hotel casino and drove to the Adams House for a tour. We were the only family on the tour and had an excellent tour guide. We all enjoyed the tour very much. After the tour of the house, we drove up to the Moriah Cemetery. Honestly, I could have done without the cemetery visit, but it seemed like the touristy thing to do! :) We spent a little bit of time after the cemetery at the Adams Museum. Again, I felt like it was nice to see once, but I wouldn't go back.
We left Deadwood by noon to head up Spearfish Canyon. Along the way we stopped at Cheyenne's Crossing for indian tacos since I had read so much about them on this forum. We were definitely not disappointed. They were SOOOOOO yummy! We are still craving them! Definitely worth the stop!
Along the canyon, we stopped at Roughlock Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and we did another hike down behind a restaurant (maybe Spearfish Falls?). The falls were very enjoyable, with the exception of a fairly large snake blocking the path on the way back up!
Devils Tower was our next stop. We took a gazillion pictures but after looking at them after returning home, we decided that pictures just can't do this site justice. Nothing short of spectacular. The kids did the junior ranger program here which was fun for them. We hiked the trail that went around the tower which took us longer than expected because we kept stopping to take pictures, look for wildlife, and enjoy the scenery. By the time we left Devils Tower, it was already 7pm, we hadn't eaten dinner, and we had to drive to Custer to check into the Chief Motel where we would be spending the next 5 nights. The drive to Custer wasn't too bad at first, but the last half hour or so, it was getting dark and there were many, many, many deer along the road. It was pretty scary driving but we made it to Custer a little before 9. We had dinner at Pizza Works in Custer since it was one of the only things open. I definitely wouldn't recommend eating there. Overpriced bad pizza, but we were starving so we made the best of it.
Day 6: Custer State Park. Wow. Great day! We climbed up Mt. Coolidge lookout tower off 16A (one mile dirt road to lookout). We almost passed this up but were so glad we didn't! What a view! We had binoculars plus a good zoom on our camera and could see mount rushmore and crazy horse from the lookout.
We drove down the wildlife loop to feed the burros carrots that we had bought. My oldest was scared to feed them, but they were so unbelievably tame! The hardest part was getting their noses out of the car long enough to shut the window when we were done. What great animals though! We also stopped in at a ranger station to ask where the buffalo were since we weren't having any luck finding them. They pointed us in the right direction and we saw our first few buffalo. I think we took 50 pictures of them before moving on up the road a little further where we saw hundreds of them! They were everywhere. All around our car, in the fields, and on the road. Such a great site to see.
We made it to the State Game Lodge for a late lunch. We missed the buffet so had to order off the menu but the food was very good.
After lunch we took a drive up Needles Highway to see the Cathedral Spires, Needles Eye, tunnels, etc. The kids enjoyed hiking and climbing at various stops along the road. Finally we made our way up to Sylvan Lake, planning to hike around a bit. However, the kids saw other people swimming in the lake and wanted to swim too. Thankfully, I hadn't unpacked the bathing suit bag from the car yet, so we found a place to change and went for a swim. My kids had never swam in a lake before and thought it was the greatest thing! Who would have thought?
Day 7: We drove Iron Mountain Rd and headed up to Mt Rushmore. Again, the pictures we took just didn't do it justice. When we arrived, the presidential trail was closed due to spraying for some kind of beetle which is killing the trees in the area. Thankfully, we didn't listen to the employees that told us the trail wouldn't open that day at all and we hung around until after lunch when they did indeed open the trail. Word of warning - be prepared for LOTS of steps, LOL! It was quite hot that day so that didn't help.
After many pictures of Mt. Rushmore, we headed out and went to the Alpine Slide in Keystone. We all had a blast and went down three times each. I think this was one of the most expensive things we did on our trip, but it sure was fun.
Next was the Big Thunder Gold Mine. We had a fantastic tour guide who remembered all of the kids names in the tour group and really kept them all involved. It was quite interesting.
We still had some time left so we headed up to Cosmos Mystery Area. Our tour guide here was a young kid who was a little hard to understand. It was a fun thing to do once and the kids enjoyed the strange gravitational pulls but again, we felt like it was a one time thing. I'm glad we did it, but wish we had a better tour guide.
We ended up eating dinner at "The Diner" in Hill City on the way back to our hotel in Custer to squeeze in some pool time for the kids and get some laundry done. We also visited the Purple Pie Place in Custer for some dessert.
Day 8: We had planned on doing Jewel Cave, but it was closed due to elevator trouble so we headed out to Wind Cave first thing in the morning. The box work was definitely a cool thing to see even though we all agreed that caves with stalactites and stalagmites are prettier. Again, we had a phenomenal tour guide. Definitely worth doing.
We left the cave and headed up to Crazy Horse. We were so impressed by the dedication of the sculptor and his family. Very inspiring and a great message to the kids about making a difference in this world. I have to say, we tried the indian tacos at Crazy Horse and the were just ok. We were definitely spoiled by the ones at Cheyennes Crossing! I wonder if they would mail me one, LOL!
On our way back to our hotel, we passed the Museum of Wood Carving and decided to stop in. I wouldn't rate this as a "must do" but we did enjoy it and it was airconditioned!
After dinner and a quick swim, we made it back to Crazy Horse for the laser light show. We almost didn't bother headed back for this, but I'm so glad we did. We all enjoyed it and we met a nice couple from Utah who we talked to and shared experiences of the area with.
Day 9: We planned to head up to Bear Country USA first thing in the morning, but we had enjoyed the burros and buffalo in CSP so much that we wanted to do it again. So off to buy more carrots (2 bags this time!) and back to CSP. This time, the kids (even my scared one) got brave enough to get out and feed them. When our carrots were gone, we searched for the buffalo in the area we saw them previously, but they had moved on. We saw a few stragglers here and there and decided to head up to Bear Country USA. It was getting very hot by this point (they were experiencing a heat wave while we were in SD) and many of the animals were hiding in the shade. The bears were still active though since they have a water hole to hang out in.
Reptile Garden is very close to Bear Country, so we headed there next. Again, it was pretty hot. We had shaved ices for lunch. Thankfully we got there with enough time to still see the three shows they do and have enough time to see the animal exhibits. The kids enjoyed seeing all of the reptiles (personally, I am deathly afraid of snakes, lizards, etc, but I was a good mom and put my fears aside, LOL!).
It was getting late and we wanted to get to Mt. Rushmore for the nighttime ceremony. We arrived with just enough time to grab a few hot dogs for dinner and find a place to stand. The seating area was full. I think the kids were a little bored with the ceremony, they woudn't say it but I could tell. I'm glad they experienced it though.
Day 10: After 5 nights at the Chief Motel, it was time to check out. We packed up and drove south to the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs since we planned on driving home through Nebraska and Iowa rather than taking route 90 home. I found the mammoth site to be fascinating. Well worth the stop. We've never been to an actual dig site like that so we all were amazed that they were still finding all of these mammoth bones.
That was our last stop in SD before heading down into NE where we stopped at Carhenge and drove down the Route 2 scenic drive. Since this is the SD forum, I'll just briefly list the remaining days in case anyone is still reading this LONG trip report, LOL!
Day 11: "Tanking" in Mullen, NE (For anyone that doesn't know, you ride down the river in a big round metal livestock tank). Lots of fun!
Drive down to route 80. Visit the Grand Platte River Rd Archway in Kearny, NE. Stop in Omaha for the night
Day 12: Drive into Iowa. Visit the Living History Farm in Urbandale, Iowa (great place, just wish it wasn't soooo hot that day!). Stop in LeClaire, Iowa for the night
Day 13: Drive to Sandusky, Ohio. Stop for the night
Day 14: Cedar Point Amusement Park - Wicked roller coasters! Lots of fun!
Day 15: Drive home. :(